Overview of Family-Based Immigration

Family-based immigration is available to parents, sons, daughters, spouses, and siblings of U.S. citizens and to spouses and certain sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents of the United States.

Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens

Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens include spouses, parents, and "children" of U.S. citizens. There is no numerical cap on how many people in this category can come into the country.

"Children" are defined by §101(b)(1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) as follows:

A child born in wedlock;

A stepchild (provided the child had not reached the age of 18 at the time of the marriage that created the stepchild relationship);

A child born out of wedlock, with respect to the natural mother in any circumstances, and with respect to the natural father only if the father can demonstrate a bona fide parent-child relationship;

A child whose relationship to his petitioning father has been legitimated under the laws of the father's country or the country of the child's residence by the age of 16;

An adopted child, only in certain circumstances;

An orphan.

The definition for "spouse" in the immigration context now extends to same-sex married couples. In all cases, to qualify as a spouse, the marriage must be legitimate in the place where it occurred, and all prior divorces must have been final before the marriage took place.

Preference Categories

A number of other family relationships qualify for immigration benefits, but are subject to yearly numerical limitations. In other words, there is a very long wait for most of these beneficiaries, and the wait time varies depending on the category. These categories are:

F-1: Unmarried sons and daughters (over 21) of U.S. citizens;

F-2A: Spouses and children of lawful permanent residents (see definition of "children" above);

F-2B: Unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents;

F-3: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens;

F-4: Brothers and sisters of adults U.S. citizens

*Note: There is no category for parents of lawful permanent residents or married sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents.